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Mother seeks legal action for being forcibly separated from newborn

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Summary of story in the Guardian, June 17, 2011

A breastfeeding mother whose newborn baby was forcibly taken from her and put into care for six days is seeking a judicial review over alleged unlawful treatment during a crucial bonding period with her daughter.

Verna Joseph, who has a history of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, says she was pushed to the ground, restrained by security guards, and her baby taken in full public view during a scuffle at King George hospital in Redbridge to which police were called.

She was then transferred by ambulance to Goodmayes hospital, North-East London NHS foundation trust, in Ilford, but was not told until several hours later that she was being compulsorily admitted for an assessment under the Mental Health Act.

Joseph, 37, a mother of nine was granted asylum in Britain following rape and torture in St Lucia.

She said: “I feel very let down by the trust. They treated me like an animal. I was afraid I would never see my daughter again. I kept asking: ‘Where is she, how is she getting on?’ They told me nothing. When I got her back, six days later, she was clinging to me.”

Joseph had recently learned that her 15-year-old son had been killed in St Lucia on the 14 February, the day Madeleine was born by caesarian section.

She felt unable to grieve for her son: “I was scared that if I cried too much, they would think I was depressed. A psychiatrist asked about me crying and I told him: ‘It’s natural to cry when your son has been killed, isn’t it?’ He said: ‘Yes, it’s natural to cry.’ I knew there was nothing wrong with me.”

According to Joseph’s medical notes, psychiatrist Andrew Biggs at Goodmayes concluded on the 16 March: “I cannot find symptoms of acute mental illness of any severity sufficient to justify detaining this woman currently.” He said she had a history of illness with unstable moods and “may react badly to crises”.

She left hospital the next day and was reunited with Madeleine on the 18 March.

Her lawyers, who say the case will have important implications for all new mothers subjected to psychiatric detention, are seeking a declaration from the high court that Joseph and her baby were unlawfully separated and that she was denied her right to a fair hearing.

  1. Not nearly enough information here. For example:-

    “Verna Joseph, who has a history of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, says she was pushed to the ground, restrained by security guards, and her baby taken in full public view during a scuffle at King George hospital in Redbridge to which police were called.”

    Why did that happen? By whom was the baby taken – medical staff or security guards (who, if so, grossly exceeded their authority). In a nutshell, what the hell was going on?

    Without more facts, it’s impossible to form a valid opinion as to whether the removal of the baby was justified or not. Joseph’s being sectioned clearly wasn’t justified, though.

    • Why on earth would removing a baby from a mother in such a way be justfied? If there were so many staff around why could they not support them instead?

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